Last spring, there was a controversy in Charlotte. The issue was over a request for proposals made by the Selectboard for tree removal. The parties involved made their dissatisfaction with the process known through Front Porch Forum posts, there was general uproar, and the Selectboard scheduled a special May 1 meeting to address the situation.
More than 60 people showed up.
Town Hall was packed that evening, and though not everyone in the room agreed, there was lively debate, discussion, and the principles of democracy were alive and well.
Like the Super Blood Wolf Moon of 2019, that meeting was a rarity. In the moon’s case, it won’t be seen again until 2037, and in the case of the Selectboard, it likely it won’t be seen again until some other major kerfuffle erupts.
But what if every Selectboard meeting were like that? What if there were 60 people every week? What if those 60 people all had passionate opinions that they wanted to share? Sometimes there are only two people in the audience, and it’s likely that those two people are reporters, and reporters don’t share their opinions at public meetings.
Yes, the meetings can be long. Yes, they can be filled with jargon and mysterious acronyms and mind-bogglingly long discussions of minutiae. And yes, you have to pick your son up from lacrosse and your daughter from her after-school job and you work late and there’s nothing in the house to eat so you have to run to Hannaford and you’re obsessed with watching The Bachelor, which is inarguably another Monday night event that’s very important.
Those reasons are all real life, and unless you’re an actual member of the Selectboard, their regularly scheduled Monday night meetings aren’t your real life…or are they?
You never know what’s going to strike a chord around here. (Remember the Great Sidewalk Debate?) You don’t even know what might come up in the year 2020 that could be of great importance to you—are you suddenly thinking about wastewater? It’s a fascinating subject, seriously. Are you wondering what’s going to happen with accessory on-farm businesses? That law could deeply affect the future of Charlotte.
You won’t know what’s going to light your fire if you don’t know what’s going on. It’s easy to care about national or global issues, in a way, because affecting serious change on that level is fairly inaccessible for most people. But you can affect change in your own town.
You don’t have to run for Selectboard—although there are two seats open this year, one for a three-year term and one for a two-year term. You should know, however, who’s running, and why they’re running, and what they plan to do should they win.
It’s a presidential election year. A lot of people will come out to vote this November, motivated by the importance of exercising their Constitutional right to cast a ballot, and to be a part of the decision of who runs the country, and to make their voices heard on the issues that they hold dearest in their hearts.
I’d argue that voting in the March Selectboard election on Town Meeting Day is equally, if not more, important.
I’d argue that going to a Selectboard meeting is just as important as going to the gym or sitting by the fire reading a good book.
You know how you can do nothing for six months and then hit the treadmill for 30 minutes and you feel like you’re going to win an Olympic gold medal? I bet that’s how it would feel going to a Selectboard meeting for someone who’s never been. The whole time you wish you were at home eating Doritos, but after it’s over, you keep thinking about it, and thinking about how that was really good for you and you’re proud of yourself for making the effort.
I think everyone in Charlotte should make a commitment to attend one Selectboard meeting this year. Just one. See what it’s all about. Exercise your right to participate in the governance of your daily life. Meetings take place on Mondays, usually at 6:30, and the schedule can be found on charlottevt.org.